"Michael Wells has been seen around town with an attractive married woman."
Those were the words that began the destruction of my marriage. They were factually true. The photo clearly showed my face, it only showed the back of her head.
I am Michael Wells. My friends call me Monkey. I won't go into all the details about that, I will give you the quick version.
My initials are MW. Years ago there was a large department store chain with the same initials, some of you may have heard of it. They were referred to As Monkey Wards in some parts of the world. Needless to say someone saw the initials on a bag or something, and the name Monkey was applied and it stuck. I guess it is a bit ironic that I run the local (almost a) department store. We are still growing, we are currently at 45,000 square feet..
I have lived in the same town almost all my life. You sneeze on one side of town and someone on the other side will be calling to report to all their friends that you are sick. Before the day is through you have died and the services are being planned.
The town is not so small as some of the minds within it; after all we have 5 stoplights here. Well, it is 6 if you count the one out by the fireman's carnival grounds. They only use that one when something is happening there.
The local paper only publishes on Monday and Thursday. In my opinion it is not worthy of being called a newspaper; but then it is too rough to use as toilet paper and I have no bird cage. The owner's wife writes a local gossip column that is known to always tell the truth. That is the name; ALL THE TRUTH.
The padre at the Catholic Church was seen drinking wine; during Mass was not stated. There was a report as to the number of bottles in the trash. Glass recycling is once a month here. The fire chief was seen running around at the fair grounds without his pants on; he was in the dunking booth at the carnival in his swim trunks. The stories went on and on, all reporting actual facts that were completely true, just leaving out the information that would make complete sense out of it.
Cleve Barker was the owner/editor of the local paper. His wife Emma Barker was the gossip maven, the seeker of eternal truth, the person who ruined my life. Emma Barker was the most vindictive bitch I ever met.
She had been in the week before to replace their washing machine. They bought the old one from us 25 years ago. We only made one service call to replace a drive belt, the washer was considered unreliable after that. We had one on sale, at $10 above cost. She wanted that one with free delivery and setup. I pointed out that the ad clearly said "Delivery and installation extra." She stormed out.
She went to the big national name store in the next county and paid nearly double what we would have charged her for the same machine, and additional for the delivery and setup. They would typically deliver it in a week; we would have had it there the next day.
It was not the cost; she just liked pushing her weight around. And, oh man, did she have some weight. Rumor has it that she slipped on an icy sidewalk, fell down, rocked herself to sleep and almost froze to death. Too bad it was almost.
The day my life as I knew it almost ended.
I arrived home from work, that fateful day, to find all my clothes in the yard. The sprinkler was running, the locks were changed and a man waiting for me with a rather large envelope.
"You know I am you stupid idiot."
"You have been served."
The stupid idiot was my cousin Steven.
"You could have done me the courtesy of warning me" I yelled as he went back into the house.
My neighbor, Spud, was on the way over to help me clean it up. I waved him off and said "Let it be. I'll get some more tomorrow at work." He wanted to load it all in my pickup but that was going nowhere until the flat tires were replaced.
Spud said "I called for the rollback down at Tom's Garage. He will get it in the morning." Then he handed me the paper and showed me the latest gossip.
"The bitch gives her a compliment and she divorces me. WHAT is wrong with this?"
Spud commented, "She has not figured out how to get into the garage yet. Imagine what she would do with your car and tools."
The car he referred to was my first car, a 64 Dodge Custom 880. The first half of the year they made the Custom 880, the second they put out the Polaris. The thing is a boat, oh what a smooth ride. Mom gave it to me after Dad died, it was his last car. He must have driven it for 20 years before he died. I also have the first delivery van from the store in there. It is almost completely restored to new condition.
I was 17 when Dad died of cancer. Mom and I ran the store together until she got too old to work full time. At 68 years old she is still doing well but can not take the stress of a full time job. She still opens the store a few days a week to be sure I am doing things right.
Spud continued "I also called Arnold Benedict to get a restraining order to keep her out of the garage." Arnold went to school with Spud and me. He is the other local lawyer in town. By that I mean, other than Eileen's brother.
Eileen is my wife, for the moment. Neither she nor her brother is very smart. She got the looks in her family; he got the stupid name. Wadsworth Wallington Smythe VI, it was a family tradition. The others had all died young. Spud claims it is the 'shame of the name' that causes it. In reality they all got careless and died in accidents; the first couple were horse and wagon, the later ones were all in automobiles.
The pair figured that the new locks would persuade me not to go into the house. UMmmmm, NO! Not going to work that way! The house was my grandfather's. I owned it and also my share of the store before I married Eileen. Her name is not on the title of either. We'll let her think she won, for a while.
Spud and I retired to his house. His wife Ethel is Eileen's best friend. Ethel just happened to be visiting her mother that week; she had retired and moved to Florida. If Ethel had been home she would have pointed out that the woman named in the gossip was Eileen. She was not there, so she could not point it out, now we have a mess.
Steve left shortly after dinner. We had pizza and cold beer, mine was root and diet.
I kept a log of the times and dates I tried to call her to explain the picture. She hung up each time she was home. If she was not home I left a message explaining that it was her in the picture. I was ordered to not try to make contact with her again after 2 weeks of trying. She obviously never listened to what I said.
Spud had access to the computers at the newspaper. He asked for and was granted a copy of the file for the photo, but only after he already had it in case it disappeared upon asking. He left an envelope on the door with the picture blown up; she burned it without opening it. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The next morning the sprinkler was still running as Eileen left to visit the gym. While she was gone I let myself into the house.
Wait a minute; you said she changed to locks, I can hear some of you calling out
She never knew about one door into the house. Years ago when they had horses instead of automobiles there was a side door that lead out to the stable and carriage house; a servants entrance if you will. The coat closet near the back kitchen door was originally a mud room. A new back door was cut into the back of the house when the garage was built. The original moldings, door and other woodwork were used so it all looked like it had always been there. The replacement door slab was covered over with cedar panels to match the other walls. The only visible lock was on the other side in the old coal bin which I had converted into my tool locker. A roll away tool chest was parked in front of the door. I had the key in the chest.
Less than 5 minutes after she left we were in the living room. The security company I used at the store was busy installing cameras with sound capability in every room and phone taps. Arnold owned the company as an addition to his law office. He had investigators working for him too. I had a few follow her for 2 weeks and decided it was a waste of money. The most likely place to cheat was in the morning at the gym, she didn't.
Spud works on electronics for a living. He installed key tracking software on her computer and a program to allow remote monitoring at will. She would never notice the extra wire pushed through the wall into my garage. The security company would monitor all of it and keep what was necessary.
She never takes her suitcase, excuse me her purse, when she goes to the gym because it will not fit into the lockers. I fished out her cell phone and Spud set it up to transmit all calls to another phone with a recorder. It was on my account, if she doesn't like it tough. As I put the phone back I saw the birth control pills in her purse. This would explain why she did not get pregnant. We had agreed to try.
The GPS action on the phone was already activated. Remember I said she was not smart? She can get lost turning around in the bathtub. I have lost track of the times I had to tell her how to get home from wherever she was. We would monitor the places she went using the GPS feature. Once an hour her phone's location was recorded.
The area was cleaned and returned to normal before she returned almost 2 hours later. She showered and dressed for work and was out the door.
When Ethel returned she tried to tell Eileen that it was her in the photo. Eileen said she was taking my side and asked her to leave, rather loudly.
One evening the next week, I stopped by to visit my mother and bring her up to date on what was going on.
The next afternoon the gossip column had a story about my visiting a widowed lady in town late in the evening. The headline read "Michael Wells is seen visiting older widow woman." It went on to say how I stayed overnight and left directly for work the next morning. The photo showed me kissing her on the cheek before I entered the house. Her house number clearly showed in the photo. Her face was blurred to conceal her identity.
While I was visiting my mother the activity at my house was not being observed by the paper.
Steve had become a semi regular guest for dinner, stopping in about 3 times a week. As he was leaving that evening he was assaulted and robbed by a group of men. The men were dressed in gang threads and ski masks. UMmmm, we don't have gangs in our town. He was taken to the hospital with a broken leg, ruptured spleen and massive bruising, and many scrapes, cuts and contusions.
The only evidence they could find was the shoe imprints where they had stomped and kicked his naked body. A patrol car had found him laying in the gutter in front of my house about an hour later.
At the time this all happened Spud was down at city hall repairing the computer network for the town counsel meeting that was in progress. The other neighbors saw nothing.
Eileen tried to get a restraining order to keep me away because I was becoming violent; the judge did not see how I was involved in the assault, especially after having Emma Barker on the stand to testify that her article was the truth. She was not a happy woman as the assault would have been a much better story.
On the record I had not been within 50 feet of my house or any place she had been since receiving the papers. Off the record I had only been in the house the one time with the installers. Spud, Arnold and I had not seen the surveillance videos. The observer was instructed to do what he had to do. Arnold was given a weekly report of her comings and goings. There were notes in the reports of the two of them doing some kissing and light petting.
The only time any of the cameras other than those on the doors were turned on was when she had someone else in the house. The order was to turn them on in sequence as needed, it was electronically controlled.
Then came the day of our meeting to work out the details of the divorce; we met at her lawyers office. I sat and listened to all they had to say. They pulled out the 2 newspaper articles and accompanying photos and presented them as their evidence of infidelity. The reports of the assault on Steve were presented too.
After they had their say Arnold began to speak. "First item of business from our side is that the house is not up for discussion, neither is any ownership in the store. Mrs. Wells has never had any ownership interest in those 2 items. Mr. Wells took possession before their marriage and had never transferred any part of them to her." He produced papers to prove both and threw them across the table. "The 2 antique cars in the garage were also his property before marriage." He presented the titles for both in the same manner.
"Mr. Wells has $10,000 in savings. He will gladly give 50 percent of that to Mrs. Wells when she gives him half of hers. Mrs. Wells has a job that has always paid more than what Mr. Wells gets, so by rights she should be paying him alimony. We have asked for full financial disclosure over the last year from Mrs. Wells, we have yet to receive it. All credit cards are only in one name or the other; the owners will be responsible for their own cards.
With regards to the locks on the house, those that were removed were valuable antiques. They were original to the house when it was built. If she can not produce them, in working order, we will ask for the cost to repair said locks or the appraised monetary value of them.
As to the reports of the assault, no one handling this issue from our side was involved as decided by the court.
Our final item to open for business is," and he shouted at this point "JUST WHY DOES SHE WISH TO DIVORCE HER HUSBAND BECAUSE HE TOOK HER OUT TO DINNER AND SOME OLD BUSYBODY CALLED HER PRETTY. This seems like a rather feeble excuse for granting a divorce in this state." He threw a blowup of the original picture on the table. In a larger size it was clear the photo was of her.
Her gasp from the other side of the table was indescribable.
"Mrs. Wells has 30 days to return the house to its owner in the same condition, or better, than when she took possession. If she still occupies the house at that time we will have her evicted."
Arnold and I stood up and walked out. Eileen was beginning to sob loudly by the time I was to the door. I smiled, turned and left. As I walked away I shouted over my shoulder "The older woman was my mother. I spent the night in my childhood bedroom."
My phone was turned off before we entered the offices and it remained that way for the next week. I did have another that the night managers could call if there was an emergency or other problem at the store.
The calls from Eileen started about an hour after we left them and continued intermittently for 4 days, until the voice mail was full. I had the security company download and record them all for future referrals. The report was that she was really sounding desperate after 4 days of no answer or response. The next day after clearing the calls they started to slowly build up again. I had the security company record and clear them each evening at that point.
Ellen was so desperate to talk to me that she violated the protection order and showed at the store. Store security escorted her back out and told her the next time she would be arrested. At this time she had 2 weeks to be out of the house, I wanted her to sweat a little more before I consented to talk to her again.
Eileen had taken all of her vacation and was now on an unpaid leave of absence from work. She could return when she was willing and able to do her job.
In terror over what she had started and could not bring to a stop she went to Ethel and Spud, and finally to Mom. Arnold had refused to allow her into his office without her lawyer.
Ethel and Spud listened and were sympathetic to her, but would not intervene in her behalf. As she left them Ethel told her "You jumped to conclusions and were wrong. You hurt the person who loved you the most. What would you do if it was you on the receiving end of all your crap?" Then she pushed her out the door and shut it. The last Eileen heard was the night bolt being thrown in place.
When she showed at Mom's place she received a very frigid reception. In tears she recounted all the errors she had made in the last few months ending with "I am lost without him. I really still love him and now he won't even talk to me." Mom just sat there and looked at her.
Finally she spoke "Were you lost before you were presented with that picture? You hurt my only son worse than you can ever know. Now you come to me and ask me for help. Just what kind of help do you suggest I give you?"
There was silence for a while. Mom got up and made a pot of hot tea. When she returned she asked again "Just what kind of help should I give you? If I help you, how can I be sure you will not do this again? I only have your word that you love him, your actions speak differently."
Eileen was dry; she had no more tears left. She just hung her head and said "I was lost before seeing the picture; I just could not admit it. I was too angry to be reasoned with. I really have no idea what you can do. I just hoped you would."
Mom spoke after a bit "Go home and take a bath. You look and smell like shit. Fix your hair and put on some light makeup. Eat a meal; I don't care if you aren't hungry. You need to take care of yourself. I will think about your request and let you know. Good day." After Mom dismissed her she silently escorted her out of the house. The last thing Eileen heard again was the night latch being thrown. Mom knew I was going to stop by my house in the next few days. I wanted our conversation recorded as evidence.
Late that afternoon she answered the door to find a man standing there. "Eileen Wells?"
She nodded yes.
"You have been served".
The envelope was about the same sized I had received. .
She burst out in tears and threw it on the table. After crying herself to sleep she awoke with a feeling of dread. She knew it did no good to put it off. As she opened the large envelope she saw inside that there was a standard size envelope with only 2 or 3 sheets of paper in it, the rest was padding. Her curiosity got the better of her and she pulled the sheets out of the envelope.
There was a short letter on the top. It read:
"You have 24 hours from the receipt of this communication to respond. When you have finished you are to call the number below and tape the sealed envelope to the inside of your storm door. Sign the back of the envelope across the glued flap.
All questions must be answered truthfully. If there are any questions please call."
By midnight the questions were answered and the envelope was signed, sealed and inside the door. The call was made to the number given. When told the envelope was placed as requested there was the simple answer. "Thank you."
Sometime in the middle of the night the envelope was removed. She had no idea when. For the first time in months she got a good night of sleep. As she fell asleep her thoughts were "...all over soon. I hope he takes me back." and then she was out.
The next morning she had a feeling she should dress up a little, she had no idea why. She did her hair into a nice ponytail and applied light makeup to help hide the bags under her eyes. She could do nothing about how gaunt she appeared. She ate a light breakfast and then lunch later.
Just after she cleaned up from her meal the doorbell rang, she jumped. On the way to the door she glanced at the clock, it read 12:30.
As she opened the door it was all she could do to murmur "Monkey!" Her legs almost collapsed. She steadied herself on the small table just inside the door. She wanted to throw herself into his arms, she wanted to drop to her knees and beg for forgiveness, she wanted to turn and run. She did none of them; she simply stared.